Ari Got the Suga’: The Naming of This Platform
I was 16 and a novice diabetic when my great aunt from South Carolina visited my grandmother. Unlike most of my family, she was unaware of my new status. I had taken out my meter to check my blood sugar when she interrupted, “Ari, you got the suga’?…”
Helen, a type 2 diabetic, spoke as if she were the leader of an exclusive organization eager to welcome their legacy. From her soft voice it seemed she was offering a lifetime of sweet perks reserved only for members. The way “suga” rolled off her tongue, one would assume diabetes was desirable—a condition easily attended to and managed. But, I knew better. I knew diabetes was neither sympathetic nor kind.
When I was initially diagnosed with type 1 diabetes a month shy of my Sweet 16, my grandmother (my great aunt’s sister) was in her 20th year of battling type 2. At that point, my grandma had already lost her vision in one eye and was undergoing weekly dialysis. She discouraged me from following her example. Trying to conceal her regret, she stressed the importance of diligently following a regimen, checking blood sugars regularly and taking all medications as prescribed. At the hospital, family members also showered me with forewarnings and fear.
As I reflect on my great aunt’s harmless labeling of diabetes, I am troubled by the endearing nickname, “suga”. I am a black woman who has watched this “suga” devastate communities of color. Though diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death among Americans, it is the fifth leading cause of death for blacks and Asian Americans and the fourth leading cause of death for Native Americans. Furthermore, blacks are not only nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than non-Hispanic whites, but are also twice as likely to die from it. These statistics though bleak, are widely known. Considering the pervasiveness of these numbers, I’ve always been disturbed by the absence of communities of color on diabetes platforms.
In light of this, I created Just a Little Suga’, to detail my musings on life with diabetes complicated by race, culture and family. My aim is to draw attention to the health narratives of individuals of color and emerge as a beacon of light for those who need it.
The name of this platform, Just A Little Suga’ is intentional and serves a dual purpose. To be clear, I am not suggesting that sugar causes diabetes, it does not.
- Instead, I am foremost submitting to the notion that life with diabetes is not terrible. Surprisingly, it can be sweet. Diabetes is not a certain death sentence, however it does make one more appreciative of life. Even with its difficulties, diabetes living can foster courage, resilience and higher standards of self-care.
- My second intention with this title is to lovingly address those in my community who tend to sugarcoat diabetes and/or dismiss it as a common life-occurrence. With the words, Just a Little Suga’, I am acknowledging the inability of some to take seriously the harmful effects of diabetes until it’s too late and the unfortunate misconceptions regarding the gravity of this disease (diabetes is a silent killer!)
So yes, in looking for the silver-lining, life with diabetes can be sweet. However, in seeking to manage this condition effectively, I’ve also learned that it’s crucial not to minimize or misunderstand the implications of this disease.
I look forward to your input and support as we journey together and understand that life with diabetes is more than just a little suga’.
 “Deaths: Leading Causes for 2013”, National Vital Statistics Report, 65 (2) http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr65/nvsr65_02.pdf
 “Diabetes and African Americans”, http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=4&lvlID=18;
“Deaths: Final Data for 2013”, National Vital Statistics Reports, 64 (2) http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nvsr64_02.pdf, National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2014.
 These figures do not differentiate between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Hi Ari, it’s Gerry, great aunt Helen’s daughter. Your blog is a blessing. I like the story behind your blog name. By the time you were diagnosed in 2006, it was mom’s 25th year living as a diabetic. Sounds like she owned it, right?
Mom was diagnosed with diabetes at age 48 and has taken insulin until just recently, she’s 83. (Sidenote: Grandma Grant lived with diabetes later in her life; however she didn’t have it at the time she passed away at 91.)
I’ve seen mom as a good example living with and managing her diabetes. Always careful to test her suga and BP (write it down), take her meds and maintain a reasonably healthy diet (she is from the south ? and my have an occasional favorite). Her diligence has helped me in developing in my own journey with high blood pressure.
My sister, however, has had Type2 diabetes for over 20 years now and has yet to emulate moms regimen. I’ve shared your blog postings with her and invited her to stop by for “Just A Little Suga” tea ..Suga talk. I know she’ll find encouragement here. Thanks for inviting us. Continued blessings..good health, love and joy.
Welcome! It’s great to have your voice in the mix. By sharing your story, you’re helping change how the world sees diabetes. That’s really powerful. Thanks for jumping in!
Hi Scott! Thank you for your encouraging words, I greatly appreciate them.